Sony and other music labels sue Internet Archive for digitizing old records

The Great 78 Project seeks to preserve old music recorded on 78rpm discs.


The Internet Archive is facing another lawsuit over one of its conservation projects. Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and a handful of other music labels have filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit organization, accusing it of copyright infringement for digitizing, "willfully upload[ing], distribut[ing] and digitally transmitt[ing]" pre-1972 sound recordings. In particular, the labels are suing Internet Archive for the Great 78 Project, which seeks to preserve music recorded on 78rpm discs.

The labels call Internet Archive's efforts "blatant infringement," involving music by artists that include Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. They also listed a few examples of "iconic recordings" available through the Great 78 Project, such as White Christmas, Sing, Sing, Sing, and The Christmas Song.

The companies said the the songs preserved on the project website are already available through streaming and other music services, so they "face no danger of being lost, forgotten, or destroyed." But the organization explained on the project portal that there's "still research value in the artifacts and usage evidence in the often rare 78rpm discs and recordings."

The plaintiffs disagree, writing in their complaint that Internet Archive's activities "far exceed" the limited purposes of preservation and research. "Internet Archive unabashedly seeks to provide free and unlimited access to music for everyone, regardless of copyright," they added. The labels are asking statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each protected sound recording, and that could add up to $372 million for the listed recordings, according to Bloomberg.

Internet Archive is also embroiled in a legal battle with a group of US publishers led by Hachette Book Group over the National Emergency Library. The organization lent out digitally scanned copies of books through the program during the height of the pandemic, which the publishers described as "willful mass copyright infringement." A federal judge ruled against Internet Archive for that particular case, though the organization is planning to appeal that decision.